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A Yokosuka civic group collected 32,000-plus more signatures than were needed to call for a referendum vote on whether a nuclear aircraft carrier should be based in Yokosuka, according to the group’s leader.

The group, which needed to get 7,200 signatures, submitted a list of more than 40,000 to Yokosuka’s election board Friday, said Masahiko Goto.

“I believe the citizens supported the referendum since they wanted to decide their future themselves rather the city or the national government deciding,” Goto said. “Many citizens are concerned with the nuclear carrier issue.”

“Originally, the mayor was elected by opposing the nuclear carrier, but he announced that he will have to accept it in June,” Goto told Stripes last month before they began collecting signatures. “The people’s voices were not heard.”

Now, the election board will check the validity of the signatures and the city assembly will vote in early February if a referendum should be held, Goto said.

Yokosuka city has maintained its position that the issue is not “fit” for referendum since the deployment was an agreement made between the two countries; however, Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya said Friday, “I want to appropriately handle it based on the local government law.”

Although it is not binding, local governments have conducted referendums on U.S. military-related issues. In March, Iwakuni city voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to relocate part of a Navy air wing to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni from Naval Air Facility Atsugi. With the outcome, the mayor asked the national government to cancel the plan; however, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected it.

The U.S. Navy commented that the referendum is a sign of exercising constitutional freedoms that both the U.S. and Japan protect.

“The right to assemble and to petition the government is one of the freedoms guaranteed to the Japanese by their constitution,” said Commander, U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander. “One of the USS George Washington’s missions is to protect and defend that right.”

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